NCAA BK

No. 14 Duke carries momentum into No. 10 Louisville clash

When No. 14 Duke plays its 33rd game of the season Thursday against No. 10 Louisville in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament at Barclays Center in New York City, coach Mike Krzyzewski isn't quite sure which version of his team will show up.

Injuries have colored the Blue Devils' effort all season, and are still doing so with the NCAA Tournament a week away. There have been numerous different lineup combinations, a fair share of controversy involving temperamental senior Grayson Allen and more than a few questions about Duke's traditionally staunch defense.

But Krzyzewski is hopeful that Wednesday's 79-72 victory over 12th-seeded Clemson in the fifth-seeded Blue Devils' tournament opener can help his team take another step in the right direction.

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"I don't know who we are completely, but we have good kids," he said. "They play hard and they share the ball. Maybe we'll develop a little more of an identity here. We've got another chance, let's put it that way."

Duke (24-8) muddled its way through the first 20 minutes with the Tigers, settling for a 33-33 tie, and established a 13-point second half lead before having to fight off a desperate surge by an opponent hoping to make a final impression with the Selection Committee.

But Luke Kennard's short jumper in the last minute eliminated Clemson from the tournament and capped off another huge game for the Wooden Award finalist. Kennard finished with 20 points, canning 8 of 11 second half shots to more than offset a slow start.

"The biggest thing I can take from this is how much confidence my coaches, my teammates, have in me," Kennard said. "They continue to tell me to stay aggressive. We struggled tonight shooting the ball, but we stayed aggressive. We stayed connected on the offensive end."

By doing so, the Blue Devils earned a second crack at the fourth-seeded Cardinals, who earned a double bye by dumping Notre Dame 71-64 in Saturday's regular season finale. But Duke might have also earned one of its worst possible matchups.

While Louisville may not have a scorer as proficient as Kennard or a healthy Allen, who is struggling with an array of injuries and missed all four shots he tried Wednesday, it does have a burgeoning star in sophomore guard Donovan Mitchell.

Mitchell, a first team All-ACC pick and an All-Defensive Team pick in the conference as well, more than doubled his scoring average from his freshman season, going from 7.8 points to 15.9. He raised his scoring average more than four points in conference play, making nearly 42 percent of his 3-pointers.

Besides Mitchell, the Cardinals (24-7) will also enjoy depth and rest advantages over the Blue Devils. Louisville's ability to run fresh bodies at Duke and wear it down played roles in home wins the last two seasons, including a 78-69 verdict Jan. 14.

"We achieved our goal on getting that double bye," Cardinals coach Rick Pitino said after beating Notre Dame. "I know that they're going to try their best and that anything can happen. I really don't know what to think, but I know they're going to give me great effort."